Adventurer's Notebook: A Scout's Honour (Chapter 6)
She caught up with Philippe, now flying in formation with him. She couldn’t see his face, but from the way he crouched down behind the windshield and the aggressive way he was pushing his hover cycle, she knew he was blazing mad.
“You flying me into another ambush,” Micheline asked.
He ignored her attempt at levity. “They used a localized radio scrambler. We can expect one in the convoy attack. Follow my lead once comms go dark.”
Micheline clicked back an affirmative.
As they backtracked the route they had cleared, there was little doubt where the convoy had been hit. A series of roiling stacks of greasy black smoke thrust out the white haze that had settled over the area. Laser fire and blasts of flame were coming and going in all directions, the battlefield a complete disarray. She smiled, despite herself. Adnix had certainly made his mark.
On either side of the road, ambushing mercenaries engaged the MSI escort. The lead security jeep had been completely wrecked, a smoking ruin dwarfed by the flaming wreck from one of the destroyed convoy vehicles; the massive truck had chunks of its storage compartment blown off and the driver's cab was a smoking ruin. None of the other vehicles had suffered significant damage, but scorch marks littered their flanks in and around where the conventional ops teams and the drivers fought to defend the convoy and survive.
On the north flank of the road, a forest was ablaze, flames shooting meters into the air, smoke cowling the region. A flurry of laser fire from another nearby forest announced the strongpoint ambushers used to keep the convoy at bay. On the side of the road, the attacking forces used rocky outcropping to provide cover. Explosions of rock and dirt rained down as MSI fire tried to keep them at bay.
Her earpiece crackled. ‘Damned scramblers.’
Philippe raised a hand and pitched his hover cycle. They swept down, low across the grassy landscape as they approached with breakneck speed. “Are you planning to punch right through this?” She remembered the radio was jammed only after she asked.
A shimmering cloud appeared to the north of the convoy; terrain and the horizon behind turned into a kaleidoscope of colours and distortion. Looking directly into the cloud for even the briefest glance nauseated her, yet it brought a smile. She knew at once that Adnix was flexing his mystic influence. The first time he had played this trick, she had nearly pissed herself in fright. The ambushers had no idea the stunning horror about to arrive.
With a flash and a massive thunderclap she heard over the din of battle and her helmet, the shimmering disappeared. From the null space the distortion vanished, a massive beast dropped to the ground with a massive impact. Its multi-segmented insectoid body reared on its six legs, two pairs of massive folding pincers sought for prey, waving through the air with what she knew would be ominous clicks and chitinous scratching. Adnax never explained where he had drawn inspiration for it, but the demonic image was damned convincing. It reminded her of a demonic, double-armed preying mantis. She forced herself to swallow down the bile into her throat. The weapons fire from the ambush suddenly dissipated on the north flank.
Philippe led them straight into the heart of fire fight. Skimming less than a meter above the ground, they kicked up a notable amount of debris. Random laser blasts sought them out, burning the air around them into ozone. A pair of drivers waved them over to a small secluded refuge, the result of one of the convoy trucks parked at an angle near the back of another. She echoed Philippe’s manoeuvres and came to a halt through a hard braking burn that left the hover cycles parked in a way to give them more cover. The cycles immediately took a number of shots as she and Philippe dove for better positions.
Adnix approached, greeted them to the make-shift bunker. He stepped around a pair of corpses, their MSI armour riddled with laser fire. “I figured you could use a distraction to get here safely,” he greeted them with a grim smile.
“Still a fucking ugly trick,” Philippe replied.
“One day you’re going to have to tell me what that thing is,” Micheline added.
“Gladly. Once we’re done killing these bastards!”
“Down,” Philippe cried. His left arm raised and stuck straight out, a concussive blast and a cloud of smoke signalled a mini-missile launch. It launched into a jerking, seemingly random path through the gap of the trucks. A shower of white-hot metal in every direction signalled a clean hit, the missile’s ordnance and the remains of a plucky ambusher clattered off the flank of the convoy truck.
“Let’s get it done,” he ordered.
Micheline ducked near the massive wheels of the truck. Under the hull, she made our the remnants of Adnix’s illusion losing its efficacy, as laser bolts and plasma fire started raining back onto the defenders’ hiding spots. Dropping into a prone position, she started sighting into the wood line. It felt like an eternity before she spotted one of them moving from the deep shadows to find a better firing position. She fired her shot. She clipped his armour through the edge of a tree, sending the upper half of the birch flying as the laser splintered the trunk. She fired again, hoping to finish him off, needing a third shot as he retreated further into the trees. He gave a satisfying shudder and his arms flew into the air as her shots finally pierced his armour. She jerked back as a flurry of fire kicked up the ground throughout the undercarriage. A shot glanced off her shoulder plate, nearly flipping her on her side as she fought to stand up.
‘These guys are no amateurs.’
“Adnix,” she called. “They’re setting up to charge from the tree line.”
The Ley Line Walker disengaged and came in at her shoulder. She could feel the power wafting off of him, the mystic energy making her queasy.
“Can you set fire to that forest? I only noticed a few of these bastards in full environmental armour. The flames and smoke should force them out.”
Adnix simply smiled. It did nothing but unsettle her stomach.
She steadied herself on the truck’s hull as the Ley Line Walker began a quick chant. He popped his body around the corner of the vehicle. A moment later, she heard a massive whoosh followed by an explosion. He ducked back next to her and said another few words. A gem on his robes flashed in a brilliant display of reds, oranges and yellows. From the forest, a soundless thump and cheers from somewhere further down the convoy as the laser fire from one flank nearly ceased. The sound of the forest erupting into a massive conflagration was astounding.
The raging battle took a pause at the sudden, expanding inferno from one of the cargo trucks at the rear of the convoy. A giant ball of orange fire roiled up a greasy pillar of black, sooty smoke.
Adnix reached down and grasped an energy pistol and clips from one of the dead. “Preacher and the Twins are back there,” he commented. “Skirt the north side of the convoy, we can make it there.”
“Go on then,” he barked back over his shoulder. “We’ve got this side handled here for now.”
The forest fires on the northern flank had distracted much of the incoming fire. She kept her rifle aimed at the firestorm, leading Adnix along the edge of the trucks frame. He kept close, one hand gripping a belt pouch from her armour, the other training his pistol for a target. She only caught a couple of snippets of enemy movement, peeks into the forest where flame and smoke had not yet consumed any chance of visibility. She held her fire, not wanting to draw in unnecessary attention.
They stumbled across three more bodies; two drivers and one in MSI armour. The frames of some of the trucks they bypassed rocked on their suspensions as lasers and slug ammunition impacted the hulls from the far side. At least a few of the ambushers were tracking them. The firefight on the tail end of the convoy was much more intense. Movement from the relative safety of one truck to the next left them completely exposed, each a terrifying sprint as shots sought them out. Micheline caught another two glancing shots, nearly losing her balance with each. Adnix took a full shot from a plasma rifle, knocking him clear to the ground. As he scrambled to get to safety, the nearly invisible bubble of magical armour she had failed to notice before turned a sour yellow, the colour of engine oil residue on glass.
They reached the next enclave of MSI defenders as a group of ambushers from the fully engulfed forests emerged. Clumped together, they loosed a volley of fire that completely surprised her. A few bolts slammed into her right leg, pain forcing her to the ground. She rolled into position and began returning fire.
Adnix stepped towards them, arms wide and his back ram rod straight. His posture made him seem twice as large, his voice booming over the din. His magical shield flashed in and out like a weak strobe light, faltering under the pressure as more laser fire tried to eliminate him. He ignored his own peril, his fists slamming together in front of him as he launched another spell. A rectangular shape darted from his hands, flying straight into the clump of mercenaries. The length of magical material grabbed them, a giant piece of fly paper now engulfing the group.
“That’s me almost tapped out,” he warned.
“Get in here,” Jack screamed, waving them through. His armour was a smoking ruin, pieces falling off him. His multi-coloured hair was singed across half his scalp, an ugly burn trailing from his left eyebrow down his neck.
Jill stoically stepped out from behind the cover of the two armoured jeeps and levelled a grenade launcher. She fired six shots on automatic over Micheline’s. The ordnance banked into the air, followed by a series of concussive blasts obliterating those caught in Adnix’s spell.
“Who the hell are these bastards,” Micheline asked as Jack pulled them into cover.
“Why does everybody keep asking such a pointless fucking question,” Jill answered without raising her voice. She reloaded her grenade launcher with a quiet, burning defiance. At that moment, she reminded Micheline of Anna. “They sprang an ambush, we’re killing them” she added.
“Jonas,” she exclaimed, moving to the man sitting on the ground, propped up against one of the jeeps.
“Hey Duke,” he said, voice low and weak. He smiled up at her. His armour was riddled with impact burns, most glancing blows, but he fared only slightly better than Jack.
“Not now you morons! You can moon over each other later” Jack cried. “We’ve got a bunch of them massing in front of us. Hey, Jill! Are you seeing what I am? Red armour, tallest boulder.”
Jill popped her head over the engine block of the jeep. She ducked back below as a concentrated burst of lasers flew overhead. Her expression was grim and her tone evident, even if the language was completely foreign City Rat speak.
“That’s Julius,” Jack confirmed.
“Enough drama, who the hell is Julius,” Adnix demanded.
“A Crazy we knew from back in Montreal. He’s a few spare parts short of a full kit.”
“Great, he’s insane,” Micheline added.
“If you wanted to be polite,” Jill said, still fuming. She launched another series of grenades to the south. Rocks and the bodies of those hiding behind them burst into the air. She dropped the launcher and ripped out a pair of pistols. “That’s those gone.”
An annoying crackle announced the opening of the radio frequencies. Someone was keying in, trying to send a message. “Six-Delta,” she challenged.
“Duke,” Philippe answered, his transmission still experiencing difficulty. “Kennie is coming in hot.”
She couldn’t help but break into a smile. “Heavy fighting back here.”
“On our way,” Kennie replied. “Anna is pissed.”
Checking her clip’s charge. “The rest of Six-Delta is coming in hot.”
“Is Anna with them,” Jack asked.
“Yeah, and she’s pissed.” A few of them actually laughed.
“Those fuckers don’t stand a chance,” Jack and Jill said in unison.
Kennie brought the ATV through a hail of fire from the front of the convoy. From her position it looked more like a suicide run. She could only imagine Kennie responding to Anna’s rage fuelled orders. Piggy kept a steady stream of heavy weapon’s fire from the armoured cupola, his plasma rifle causing explosions of rock and dirt wherever he aimed. Anna had forced the passenger door open and hung onto the rails. They came to a crashing halt nearly halfway down the caravan’s length and Micheline lost track of the Juicer; a blur of motion, she leapt over the engine compartment, her rifle spewing energy bots as she charged a small enclave of the enemy.
Philippe and one of the drivers sprinted for the safety of Kennie’s ATV. She could barely make out his yells. Piggy and Kennie shifted their fire to support the rear of the convoy.
“Six-Delta is going to need covering fire,” she called, peeking over the edge of cover. A plasma bolt grazed her helmet, knocking her bodily back from the jeep, feet flying in the air as her shoulders slammed into the ground. Her vision went awash with swirling colours; the pain collided with her consciousness, a heavy cloud of vertigo setting in. She sensed but didn’t quite feel the hands undoing the clasps and ripping off her helmet. The fresh air helped, but not enough to prevent her from rolling to her side, vomiting into the grass.
She groaned, wiping the spittle from her mouth as they dragged her over and placed her next to Preacher. She fumbled with her Wilk’s 457, her hands having a hard time to properly grasp it. “That hurt,” she sighed, another wave of nausea overcoming her. A couple of laser blasts impacted into the hull of the jeep, Preacher jerking as he took a blast in the arm. His scream jolted her into action. Rolling over his legs, she shielded him with her body as she desperately fought to bring her rifle to bear.
Adnix appeared nearby. He fired his pistol, doing little other than buying her time. Micheline brought her rifle to bear, instincts guiding her where coherent thought and the feel of her weapon seemed a distant, foggy concept. Focus slipping in and out, she kept firing. She had no idea if she was hitting but kept pulling the trigger until darkness took her.
Continue to Chapter 7 (forthcoming)
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